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Keywords:

  • colorectal cancer;
  • epigenetics;
  • folate;
  • methylation

Migheli F, Migliore L. Epigenetics of colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer (CRC) develops through a multistep process that results from the progressive accumulation of mutations and epigenetic alterations in tumor suppressor genes and oncogenes. Epigenetic modifications, that have a fundamental role in the regulation of gene expression, involve DNA methylation, specific histone modifications and non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) interventions. Many genes have been until now studied to detect their methylation status during CRC carcinogenesis; and the functions of many of these genes in cancer initiation and progression are being clarified. Less is known about the patterns of histone modification alterations in CRC. Epigenetic deregulation of the ncRNAs or the genes involved in their biogenesis have been described in tumor progression and some examples of dysregulated microRNA were found also in CRC cells. Diet has an important role in the etiology of colon cancer. Folate is involved via 5-methyltetrahydrofolate in the conversion of homocysteine to methionine, which is then used to form the main DNA methylating agent S-adenosylmethionine. However, the role of folate in protecting from or in promoting CRC, depending on conditions, is still debated. The study of epigenetic marks to better characterize CRC and to identify new tools for diagnosis and prognosis as well as for therapeutic interventions is extremely promising.